Restructuring the Structure?-II
AAP are left-ists?" The AAP
website poses the question itself. And, the answer is given in following words : "We are very much solution focused rather than ideology driven. There is an age-old tendency to pin down political parties as left, right, center etc. In the process everyone forgets the issues at hands and their solutions. Our goal is to remain solution focused. If the solution to a problem lies on the left we are happy to consider it. Likewise if it is on right (or in the center) we are equally happy to consider it. Ideology is one for the pundits and the media to pontificate about".
Nevertheless, the Economist, one of the voices of Wall Street has called Aam Aadmi Party 'left-leaning'. Nitin Gadkari, the former BJP chief described AAP politics as 'right-wing Maoism'. For Jansanghi Subramanian Swamy, Manish Sisodia, former journalist and now a minister in the Kejriwal government, AAP espouses the cause of Maoists and Naxalites. Some other rightwing critics have termed Team Kejriwal as forces of anarchy, enemies of parliamentary democracy, loudmouth loonies, upstart rabble-rousers, preachers of street politics, populist charlatans and so on.
While sharing AAP idealism, one exponent of free market economy and lesser government even apprehended that 'newbie politician Kejriwal is looking to outdo', the 'ultraleft loonies' as well as , who is 'looking to out-Left the Left parties'.
Assorted lefts, on the other hand, were initially disdainful and dismissive of the new force. Though their leaders reserved their comments in public, in private they called team-K as middle class revolutionaries, moralist jholawalas, B-team of rightwing Hindutva, NGO do-gooders dousing the flames of class struggle et al.
The AAP free-thinking is fraught with both possibilities and dangers. But the overwhelming public support to AAP position is understandable in the wake of six decades-long mass experience of bankrupcy, hypocrisy, doublespeak of the so-called ideologically-rooted political parties and leaders including the mainstream lefts.
The 34-years-long left front rule in Bengal and its counterpart in Kerala after regular intervals, despite their initial limited achievements in land reforms and devolution of power through panchayati raj institution, only dampended the pan-Indian ideological appeal of communists which they used to yield in far greater proportion to their actual organisational strength till sixties.
Both the CPM and CPI gradually lost their clouts in Hindi heartland, particularly in Bihar and UP. All talks of regaining it have failed to deliver. The fall of Soviet Union and China's market socialism and victory of the forces of global capital only addded to the general disillusionment and confusion, particularly among the youth.
Now, CPM, the biggest party of the mainstream left has come out with grudging admiration for the AAP's ability to rope in politics-wary middle class youth as well as urban poor in class-conscious Delhi. Party general secretary Prakash Karat credited AAP for making a 'viable and credible alternative to Congress and BJP in Delhi'. He even likened Team Kejriwal's ordinary lifestyle and refusal to VIP bunglows and other trappings of power to the communist tradition of austere living and identification with hoi polloi.
However, the big brother is yet to embrace AAP as an ally till it makes economic policies clear or identify the roots of corruption,expectedly in tune with the left diagnosis of Indian maladies.
In contrast to the AAP, Lefts failed to make inroads in the Hindi heartland. In fact, it lost whatever little it had achieved earlier. "In Rajasthan, the people's determination to get rid of the Congress government has led to a sweep for the BJP. This has adversely affected the prospects of the CPI(M). It has led to a disappointing result with the Party losing its three sitting seats."
Now the party has asked its state units to take up campaigns against price rise, corruption and unemployment, violence against women as well as issues of the farmers and rural poor and food security.
Maintaining that unlike the Congress-BJP ' bipolar situation' in the four states that went to polls recently, the Lok Sabha elections would see tri-corner contest involving regional parties or the left in some states. "The beneficiary of the anti-Congress mood among the people in many states will be the non-Congress, non-BJP parties which include the Left parties," Karat said on 2014 May scenario.
But there was no introspection why the newborn AAP succeeded while the age-old communist parties failed. It was left to the CPM's LF partner , Forward Bloc to express some words of self-criticism. According to the Bloc general secretary Debabrata Biswas, left Parties' old style of functioning in addressing only the economic issues did not catch the voters' attention. While the AAP, backed by NGOs worked on the urban middle class social issues like right to education and health. The "Left parties organised many programmes to address only issues affecting trade unions and peasantry," he said.
While Asoke Mitra's 'lament for the defunct left' of CPM variety in the context of advent of AAP is a pointer to that failure, its reasons can be found partly in the recent joint work of Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze.
They have rightly criticised the mainstream lefts for fighling shy of moblising against corruption in the government and semi-government bureaucracy or labour aristocracy. Despite the fact that mostly poor and marginalised people are at the receiving ends of babudom's whims, harrassment and extortion, the left front did not rock its boat since it deepended on the babudom's support.
Gradually they began pampering higher bureaucray as key ally. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, CPM's poster boy for reformed left in post-liberalisation years thundered on 'work culture' to government employees and warned them of'perform or perish'.
But nothing substantial was done on public accounability and transparecy of the ministers and bureaucrats down the line. The deadly mixture of self-rightous, arrogant and secretative party structure and entrenchment in the trappings of governmental power and corrupt practices for three long decades made the CPM leaders and ministers rank hypocrits in popular perceptions. Their oft-repeated allegiance to 'Manush' (mass) became an empty rhetoric, a lifeless absract which was lightyears away from the flesh and blood people.
Though Bhattacharjee stayed at his middle class flat, VIP culture was in full trottle for the party and government except for a few oldguards. Cabinet decisions were not even briefed to the media till the fag end, let alone the larger public, the LF regime was quite reluctant in implementing the RTI act.
Neither people had witnessed any campiagn against coroprate corruption, arrogance and lack of transparency. Consumer protection campaign in the services sector has been one of the most neglected areas. In fact, the CPM government under both Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee gagged every protest against the corporate groups which their goverments had courted.
For example, the RPG-group controlled Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation, which runs a monopoly in power supply in Calcutta and suburbs including large parts of the adjoining districts, has enjoyed protection from the CPM-led (and now Trinamul) governments against all complaints of exorbitant tariff, inflated billing, faulty meters and their whimsical reading as well as highhanded approach to redressal of consumer grievances.
A vice chancellor-turned technocrat power minister had to leave Basu's cabinet after he had rubbed the company in the wrong ways. The SUCI, a small but hardnut left party suffered repeated crackdown by police and CPM-cadre combine as it tried to mount a campaign against the CESC.
No wonder, AAP's promise to make the power supply companies accountable, audit their records and slash the bills would find a resonance in Kolkata too.
The rampant corruption of the CPM apparatchiks and their arrogance, except some honorable exceptions down the line, finally contributed to the party's ouster from power in Bengal and Kerala.
The public trust deficit is so high even after two and half years of Trinamul rule that CPM has failed to mount an effective campaign on Saradha scam, the massive fraud of lakhs of small investers by a 'Chit fund' company that enjoyed new rulers' protection in exchange of propaganda support for Mamata Banerjee government.
Interestingly, the CPM which had tried to 'engage the forces of globalization' by giving tax and non-tax incentives including forcible acquisition of farmland and almost free-holding rights to FDI and Indian corporate investors in Bengal while refused to divulge its government's deal with Tata Motors sang a new tune after losing power.
The party's number two Sitaram Yechuri wanted to include corporate entities and public private partnership (PPP) projects under the ambit of Lokpal (anti-corruption ombudsmen) panel to stop big capital's influence on government policies. Saying that the bill was seeking to tackle the "demand side" of corruption but not the "supply side", he demanded electoral reforms vis-a-vis corporate donations to political parties.
Maoists and other Naxalites
The epoch-making Naxalbari movement and undivided CPI(ML) had tumultive but shortlived effect on mass psyche, praticularly, urban youth and rural poorest of the poor in east, south and parts of north India. Even after the blood-baths, which were often self-destructive, Naxalites in popular mind were considered in continuity to the best traditions of freedom struggle and later, communist tradition.
They became almost national archetype of idealist and self-less youth dedicated to the egalitarian dreams of bygone generations. Many films and literature treated them as the most authentic angry young men and women of the sixties and seventies who challenged the post-colonial betrayals, the original challanger of the 'system'. Even mainstream leaders like VP Singh and NT Rama Rao wished to emulate them. Many who did not approve their violent politics admired them.
But the decades of ideological hair-splitting and endless organisational hotchpotch made them a marginal force, a momentous spark that failed to ignite the professed prairie fire. However, the emergence of CPI(Maoist) has once again made the revolutionary left a pan-Indian talking point.
Unlike its earlier city-centric-organisation, the new party has succeeded in entrenching itself among the tribals in central India, the most violated, brutalised and plundered people of the land other than the dalits. Commitment to undo the wrongs done to them, both historical and contemporary, is the ultimate litmus test for all Indian democrats.
But the Maoists' refusal to accept the massive changes in global and local scenarios since the Chinese revolution have almost relegated them to margin of popular imagination of today's globalised urban youth. The party's obsessive denial to recognise the growth of Indian state and its deep penetration down the caste, class, regional faultlines and identity cleavages, its almost total success to co-opt all major social-political forces in parliamentary democrary have turned them into a genre of idealists stuck in a time-warp.
They evoke sympathy for their dedication but no more considered inspirational icons by today's rural Indian youth, except may be in mineral-rich tribal areas where the state has shunned almost all democratic niceties and bared its fangs for neo-liberal plunders and imposition of straight jacket nationhood in Kashmir and north-east.
For worse, the Maoist militarism that only mirrors the state violence, intolerance to plural political contest in red zones while making clandestine deals with opposition parties have repulsed many internal critic of Indian democracy.
Their rejection of all open mobilisational forms and failure to take immediate mass issues, ideological dogmatism that anchors their inability to make a rainbow coalition with diverse grassroots movements and harness the million mutinies for a common goal—altogether have made them largely redundant in today's increasingly assertive politics of mass mobilisation and democratic contests.
The Maoist strong-hold of Bastar in south Chhattisgarh witnessed varied voter turnout amid the unprecedented police bondobast and Maoist call for poll boycott during the assembly election in five states including Delhi. The Darbha carnage where the Maoists killed 28 Congress leaders in May seems to have boosted the Congress' fortunes. Out of 12 assembly seats in Bastar, Congress won eight. In 2008, BJP had won 11 of the 12 seats.
The Congress and BJP called it a victory of democracy while Maoists called it a democracy at the point of gun. The spat did not change the fact that Maoists have no visible credentials for popular representation, acceptable to people of rest of India. It could have helped to draw public attention to the plight of tribals in mineral-rich areas and the state-corporate joint violence in the name of development.
Despite having many of the best children of India in their ranks including those have been murdered, Maoists and other Naxalite groups have failed to occupy the social-political space at the national level which now AAP aspires to fill up.
In this scenario, ideological grand standing or reverance for revolutionary scriptures would not help to attarct them as long as the gulf between the kathni and karni (words and deeds) widens. The all pervasive popular disdain against those who swear in the name of Gandhi, Nehru, Lohia, Ambebkar, Din Dayal Upaddhay, for that matter, in the name of Marx and Lenin is a hard fact of present time.
Critiques against AAP
But AAP's critics too have grounds to accuse its think tank of ad hocism, opportunism, eclectism and superficility. No 'solution-focused approach' or disdain against 'pontification' can ignore the roots of the problems and best possible road maps to their long-term mitigations. So fundamentals of the longterm maladies like corruption lie in the economy and body politik as well as social structures.
If they are not engaged in self-delusion and have suspended their disbelief, AAP ideologues must be clear that their anti-corruption agenda alone would not suffice. The AAP leaders may not be in a hurry in elaborating their alternative vision for an India free of inequality and injustice, mass hunger and plunders of national resources by few at the cost of millions.
But if they have a quest for an alternative economic and political structures, they should begin their journey before the public interest in them dwindles. Seeing the trees only would lead to missing the wood. Whether it is done deliberately or not done deliberately, the point of diminishing return would catch up today's darlings of the masses.
Having said that, one also wonders whether ideology means a dogmatic faith in formulations of bygone eras and adherence to beaten paths. Or, it means an analytical tool, a framework of historical understanding which enables people to engage with contemporary realities open-mindedly, effectively and innovatively the collective quest for a better world.
AAP's promise of 'swaraj' through 'mahallah sabhas', meant for popular participation in decentralized planning and execution for better civic governance and its decision to seek public opinion before deciding to form the minority government with outside support from the Congress have evoked mutually opposite reactions from Delhi voters and the established political parties. Most of the electorate in Delhi and beyond welcomed this move towards 'participatory democracy' from 'representative democracy' as social scientist turned AAP leader Yogendra Yadav put it.
On the other hand, mainstream political parties ridiculed the idea. While a BJP leader called it 'another reality show that reveals the lack of self-confidence of Arvind Kejriwal & Co', his Congress counterpart described it 'impractical and immature'. The critics said that the ancient Athenian city-state's practice was not only be unsuitable for big country like India but also undermined the prevailing system of representative democracy. Media pundits joined saying that it was an effort to institutionalise the 'wisdom of mob'.
The Idea is not new and unheard of. But its practice is a welcome departure from decadent politics of right, left and the centre that made most people abhorrent to 'polities'. If anything the idea is not at all anachronistic with current global and national scenario. One must remember the increasing gulf between the elected representatives and their electors across the world.
The huge popular participation in the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US as well as mass upheavals in Tahrir to Shahbag squares have revealed the simmering gulf that often went against the government-opposition bipartisan polity and made fundamental criticism of the reigning socio-economic system. Latin America and Europe as well as some parts of Asia and Africa have witnessed the experiments in direct participatory democracy, both in street protests and community governance.
Despite the statist and vanguardist principles and mindset of orthodox left who hardly differ with their rightwing counterparts, the libertarian and communitarian traditions since the Paris Commune have an appeal to popular imaginations and mass aspirations across the globe down the ages.
Those who want to reduce parliamentary democracy to people's right to elect their rulers for five years and those who want to impose one-party rule in the name of people's democracy are essentially same in their mindset. They are control-freaks who consider themselves or their parties as the repository of all wisdom and vision. They swear by masses but do not like to be accountable to the multitude or believe in the latter's collective possibilities.
The AAP spokesman Yogendra Yadav has unveiled an elaborate organisational expansion plan in the states saying that the 'people are queuing up to join the party across the country.' Also, he has invited online application from ticket-aspirants, which would be scrutinised and finalised in consultation with state units.
A hierarchy of committees has been formed to supervise these jobs as well as to draft the party's policies on 'all major national issues' before the leadership fine-tunes them in a poll manifesto by March.
Yadav and some other AAP leaders promoted Arvind Kejriwal, the AAP's 'tallest leader' and new chief minister of Delhi as a prime ministerial material. A section of influential media too lapped up the idea of putting Kejriwal, the new wonder boy of Indian politics, as an alternative to Congress' wannabe pm-candidate Rahul Gandhi and his BJP counterpart Narendra Modi.
It's another matter that Kejriwal himself has scotched the speculation by declaring that he would not contest the parliamentary polls but go for nation-wide campaign.
The galloping expansion and consolidation of party organisation and rocketing political projection indicates a leap forward from the party's earlier benign and less ambitious plan for gradual growth.
Beginning as a part of the anti-corruption movement, the AAP's meteoric rise on Delhi's horizon has been welcomed by all who have been dissatisfied with the Congress-BJP bipartisan rivalry for national domination and the corrupt, criminal and communal political class that includes regional parties too. Their poll-time democratic rhetoric could not heal the daily wounds that the millions have been suffering under an insensitive, unaccountable and opaque system of governance for long.
The AAP is riding on the waves of the anger and angst of the multitude as well as their yearning for a better India. The party has aroused hope in many people. But initial success seems to have gone to its leaders' head. They are now behaving like the Delhi-based 'high command' of all centralised political parties who holds power to finalise the list of party nominees in far flung areas of the land with the inputs or recommendations of regional satraps. The electorate or party common members have no role in selection of candidates.
What is more alarming that awestruck with their stellar performance, the crusaders for clean politics are forgetting their initial promise to network with fellow-minded local, regional organisations and individuals in states. Far from being a force- multiplier for a decentralised grassroots movement for participatory democracy and governance from the below, the AAP is now trying to be the sole spokesman for the millions of governed Indians by aping the other 'national' parties.
Time and again, Kejriwal said earlier that neither he nor the party had the 'aukat (capacity as well as audacity)' to spread its wing across the country to take on the corrupt and criminalised political system. He had appealed to fellow travelers to join hand for making an all-India impact.
While AAP has some bases in Kejriwal's native state Haryana that neighbors Delhi and Maharastra due to the impact of son-of-the soil Anna Hazare who was the original mascot of the anti-corruption movement, the 14-month-old party has little organisation in rest of the land.
Kejriwal had said regional non-partisan people's movements for better governance like the Andhra Pradesh-based Lok Satta, led by Jayaprakash Narayan, should be invited to come under the AAP banner and contest the Lok Sabha election.
Similarly, grassroots organisations like anti-nuclear power plant movement like Tamilnadu's Kudankulam had extended support to the AAP during the Delhi polls. Now its leader SP Udaykumar had reportedly been sounded by the AAP to contest polls under its banner.
But Yadav, a seasoned social scientist committed to deep democracy did not utter a single word in his press conference on 5th January about the AAP initiative to rope in people's movements against rural land grabs, big dams and inundation of villages, massive dispossesion and displacement of tribals for mining minerals and destructions of forests and other basics of environment.
There is no information on joining hands with Medha Patkars and Aruna Roys or their organisations NAPM and MKSS who had joined the anti-corruption movement or paved its ways by pioneering right to information campaign. The AAP effort to make dent into Modi's Gujarat has not included those who have been fighting on the ground against the communalised and vindictive state machinery and its fake encounter experts as well as land grab and n-power plants.
Basking in their newfound glory, the AAP leaders apparently trying to gobble up the whole civil society space of which they were parts and products. Nobody knows the new party's policy positions on developmental paradigms, structural violence and other related issues on which they had taken individual positions earlier.
AAP leaders are yet to clear their stance on foreign policy issues related to south Asia as well as Indo-US relations etc.
Though leaders like Prasant Bhusan has insisted on foucusing 'policies and people rather than personalities', the party as a whole appears to be fast moving towards a personality-driven politics with Kejriwal as the new Jayaprakash Narayan of India and his admirer-turn- activist corporate leaders et al as his emissaries. If the trend persists, it will be a miscarriage of the dream that it has evoked.
The party's organisational principles are also not clear after it has graduated into a mass party from a close-knit activist group. Will the party practise its cherised principle of participatory democracy within its own home first and evolve mechanism to involve new converts in decision-making both at the centre and states? How do they deal with internal differences, the minority opinion from within? How to engage non-party organisations and individuals?
So far, they have worked through less hierarchical, consensus-based small group structure seeking feedbacks from public through Mahalla sabhas, a combination of vertical and horizontal decision-making processes.
With hundreds joining the rank and file now, how to place the big names and lesser mortals in the party hierarchy and on what basis? What will be the power relation between the Delhi-based central leadership and the state units? How to involve the masses into the decision-making? These are questions which seek answers to justify the AAP claim for a paradigm shift in Indian politics.
CPM and AAP
In the mean time, the party has declared that it would go alone in the Lok Sabha polls or fight on its own strength. Though the CPM and its partners have greeted AAP for providing a 'credible alternative to Congress and BJP in Delhi', Prashant Bhusan was dismissive of the suggestion of left-AAP understanding in view of corruption in the left parties.
It has resonance in the states too. Claiming that "some big political personalities" had already approached, AAP's Punjab convenor Harjot Singh Bains clarified they would not join hands with parties like CPI, CPM or Manpreet Badal's Peoples' Party of Punjab (PPP).
Still clueless about how to claw back in Bengal, CPM's reticence-turned grudging recognition of the AAP stemmed from the 'unstated threat that AAP could pose to the Left', as journalist Soroj Negi felt.
"That may be of concern to the Communists, which until now had basked in the halo of bringing a semblance of principled politics into the national mainstream", he said referring to the withdrawal of left support to UPA-I on Indo-US civil nuclear deal.
Negi speculated whether AAP would become the 'fulcrum' of anti-Congress, anti-BJP politics 'if the Left slips up electorally' in view of Left's dismal situation in Bengal and Kerala to some extent.
"Though it lacks the ideological orientation of the Left, the AAP has brought a whiff of change in politics, judiciously blending its cyber campaign with ground level agitations, making itself available, accessible and reachable and infusing an element of cleanliness, morality and principles into politics," he said.
Obviously, CPM and its rancorous parivar would not like AAP replacing them. But their electoral compulsions in Bengal and Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana may provoke CPM to make overtures to AAP in order to whitewash its mercenary image in Bengal and Kerala.
But deep inside, CPM and AAP are mutually hostile despite their common ground on Congress corruption and BJP communalism. Unless the latter turns into an election-driven and power-obsessed party like CPM, APP idealism would not get with the CPM.
Same is with the Trinamul. Mamata Banerjee's party has reserved its opinion on the new baby, apparently because of its role in decimating the Congress, her former ally and now foe, in Delhi. Kejriwal faces a competition from her so far austere living and driving sans red light beacon are concerned. Also she has out-left the CPM on land acquisition, water tax and similar issues.
She is keenly watching whether Team Kejriwal tries to make serious dent in Bengal and take on her by harking back to anti-incumbency factors like increasing attacks on women and insensitivity of the chief minister, her party and government's highhandedness with all sorts of Opposition. But some of her poll managers argued that even if the AAP gets a small share of anti-TMC vote in some urban areas, it would harm the CPM, Congress and BJP more.
Nitish Kumar's JD[U) which has supported AAP government in Delhi is itself a claimant of good governance. AAP entry in Bihar would like to help Nitish to deflect the Modi-driven assault while dealing with friendly Congress and old competitor Lalu Prasad.
In Orissa too, BJD MP Joy Ponda's welcome messege to AAP victory in Delhi is likely to be considered a signal from chief minister Nabin Patnaik who is non-aligned to both UPA and NDA. AAP presence in urban areas may help him to ward off Congress and BJP threats.
At the national level, it will be an welcome development if AAP puts up serious challanges to BJP efforts to harvest anti-Congress mood in the Hindi heartland. But it is not likely to emerge as the sole giant killer in complex national scenario since non-Congress, non-BJP regional parties are strong in many states in the south and east.
In an eventuality of a non-Congress, non-BJP government at the Centre, the ground reality of Indian politics and society would compel AAP to get down from its high horse as it had to in Delhi itself by accepting office with Congress support.
But it should better take care of faultlines under their feets. An analysis of the vote share in the 70 assembly constituencies in Delhi shows that BJP is ahead of the AAP in almost six of the seven Lok Sabha seats. The AAP is only ahead of the BJP in the New Delhi assembly constituency where Kejriwal matted Congress chief minister Sheila Dixit. Congress, which at present holds all the Lok Sabha seats, comes in a third position in all seven.
AAP's likely further elevation into the political centrestage notwithstanding, it is not going to make any substantial paradigm shift in governance and expansion of participatory democracy if it prioritises its electoral ambition while losing its umbilical cord with civil society activism.
If it fails to connect itself with grassroots independent people’s movements, communities and organisations, they will soon become another political party. Question is whether Kejriwal, Bhusans and Yadavs are keen on travelling the path what the Brazilian and some other Latin American radical democrat parties choose by making their parliamentary deputies accountable to movements and recalling them when the MPs failed to press for the demands from below. Their promised participatory democracy demands such logical outcome.
Vol. 46, No. 31, Feb 9 - 15, 2014